‘Carry Your Cross’ and Be You!

During a Mass reflection from September 14, 2021, a junior student preacher revealed her identity struggle to “fit in” as a first-year Fenwick student.

By Julia Overmyer ’23 (River Forest, IL)

Good morning! Today, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. As I was preparing my reflection for today’s Mass, I was gifted with the truly wonderful experience of writer’s block. No matter what I wrote, I felt like I wasn’t grasping the true meaning of what we celebrate today.

Student Preacher Julia Overmyer is a junior at Fenwick from River Forest, IL.

In the second reading, Paul writes about Jesus, “Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted Him.”

Those few lines, those few powerful lines, finally gave me what I was searching for: humility.

We celebrate today to honor the Cross. The Cross that Jesus was crucified on; the Cross that Jesus defeated death on; and the Cross that represents our Christian faith as a whole.

There is a well-known expression that you have or will learn in your theology class. This expression is “Carry your Cross.” For those who haven’t heard this expression, it means to accept the challenges put in front of you, fully placing your trust in God. Freshman year was a time when I struggled to carry my own cross. I was attempting to solve things on my own rather than in partnership with God.

Like some of you, I came from a school where only a few kids came here to Fenwick. At first, I saw this as an opportunity to branch out and make more friends. I figured that there would be plenty of other kids in the same boat as me. Although there were others whose situations mirrored my own, I slowly started to see a pattern: A lot of people had arrived at Fenwick with groups of friends formed from their previous schools.

I desired to fit it — I tried changing my looks, hobbies and, basically, who I was. And let me tell you, it did not change anything and just made me feel even worse. Finally, I prayed to God, asking for some sort of guidance to what I was doing wrong or how I could better fit in.

After countless prayers and nights of frustration, I had concluded that I truly was alone. In a time where I was supposed to be meeting those who would become my lifelong friends, I felt like I had nobody. I had lost faith in God and His role in my life. I was so consumed in the idea of changing who I was in order to fit in, that I didn’t see what God had already given me.

He had given me everything that I had needed to succeed, beginning with the humility to recognize that I couldn’t do this on my own, but needed His guidance and assistance. God doesn’t tell us how to live out our lives; that is the beauty of His gift of free will. Instead, he gives us the clarity that we need in a way that we couldn’t have come to on our own. God has created every one of us to be unique, and by trusting the process that God has laid out for us, we can accept who He has made us to be. This realization finally allowed me to pick up the cross that I had set down and put my faith before my actions.

Now, I am very happy to report that I have made friends who have been the best blessing I could’ve ever received, all through trusting God first. They accept me for who I am and what God has created me to be. So, every night, I take a minute to thank God for showing me that I shouldn’t give up just because the answer isn’t in front of me. And to all those who are struggling in this situation, don’t lose faith and use the tools God has given you.

Throughout our journey upon this Earth, we are going to experience some things that we might not understand at first. But as we go through our writer’s blocks of life, we must remember that the answers may not lie in front of us, but they are always within God’s plan. Let us continue to carry our cross and keep faith.

George Wendt, PhD.: October 3, 1947 – September 11, 2021

Fenwick community mourns the loss of Hall-of-Fame alumnus swimmer and former English teacher from Class of ’65.

With great sadness, Fenwick announces the sudden passing of fellow Friar George Wendt ’65, who died this past Saturday doing what he loved: swimming. Mr. Wendt, 73, who held a PhD., was inducted into the Fenwick Hall of Fame in 2013. He also had taught English at Fenwick and was Department Chair before leaving to run his family’s metals business.

Read his obituary.

Wendt (right) diving into the old pool at Fenwick High School.

Several articles about George have been published over the past several days:

Oak Park Wednesday Journal:

Chicago Sun-Times

Swimming World Magazine

Friars Remember 9/11: Twenty Years Later

From Fenwick High School’s morning announcements on September 10, 2021:

Twenty years ago, 19 people hijacked four planes with box cutters with the intention of using each plane as a smart missile. Three of the four planes hit their intended targets: the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The World Trade Center was a symbol of our thriving economy and the Pentagon a symbol of our military. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania because those on the plane understood their fate and decided that no other American would be the victim of terrorism.

As a result of this attack, the United States invaded Afghanistan to hold those that committed these heinous acts accountable.  

Throughout both today and this weekend, please keep in your prayers all of those who died in the 9/11 attacks. Keep in mind the families of those that continue to suffer from their loss. Pray for all of the first responders that continue to suffer from the effects of these attacks today … their suffering is both physical and emotional.

Finally, keep all of our soldiers, public servants and their families in mind who served, and in some cases died, in Afghanistan defending our country against these acts of aggression.

In our monthly Fenwick Alumni News (FAN) e-newsletter earlier this week, we asked members of the Fenwick Community: Where were you when the United States was attacked on September 11th, 2001? Here are some memories of that fateful day 20 years ago:

Angela (Mostardi) Wold ’02

I was in Mrs. Zach’s calculus class my senior year at Fenwick. After we heard the news we turned on the TV just as the second tower was hit. No one knew the ramifications that moment would have on the rest of our lives!

Also, I was a leader of the Kairos retreat set to leave that afternoon. The retreat went on as planned, and it was a strange time to be without communication to the outside world — but in a way that made the retreat even more special and brought us together.

Jeanette (Stamm) Fair ’03

I will always remember sitting in Fr. Tom’s 01 period when another student, Dom Volini, was late that fateful day. He walked in and informed the class that “something was happening” and that there had been some sort of plane crash. At that point, no one knew what was occurring. By the time I made it to 02 with Ms. Zach amidst a buzz of chatter in the hallway, we soon realized that something much bigger was afoot. I remember wanting so badly to watch the news but administration deemed it healthier to go about the day as the breaking news would only be a terrifying distraction since so much was still unknown at that point. I raced home after school to see what was happening and will never forget the image of my older brother standing at the kitchen counter TV with his head dropped and tears falling from his eyes and realized in that instant that this was a national emergency we will not soon recover from. 

The terror that ensued in the following days was palpable. The constant questions in the halls of Fenwick, “was Chicago next?”, the worries of students, “my dad is a fireman, he may go to New York,” the misinformation, “I heard there was a car bomb found on Madison,” had all completely replaced the day to day gossip and banter that us high schoolers were accustomed to. 

Fenwick will always hold a dear place in my heart for my time spent there but I know once a year I will reflect on that time in a different light. As it was there that our country changed forever.

Lisa Danno ’05

I was arriving in Mr. Groom’s 2nd-period world history class as a freshman, seated second seat, second row. I remember the two guys sitting next to me, Matt Abu-taleb and Ben Bakos, asking if we heard what happened. Mr. Groom touched on what happened and why things like that happen, then eventually moved on to our lesson for the day. I remember it being hit or miss whether or not your teacher wanted to play the news on the sad little TVs mounted in their classrooms. I remember student-athletes trying to figure out if their practices were still on that day. Our volleyball practice was not cancelled. And I remember a friend and classmate,Caitlin Ferrera, hearing from her mom, who worked in the Sears Tower, hearing they had to evacuate as a precaution. I remember doing my Alegebra and Spanish homework that night with my family and the news on as we watched rescue crews and Bush’s address.

Dan Logas ’05

Memories can be fuzzy and unreliable, but I remember where I was and how I felt very clearly.

9/11 will be forever tied in my mind with Fenwick. I was a freshman, just starting out on my Fenwick journey. I had known only a few peers prior to coming to Fenwick and was still gathering my footing. I started the day with Mr. Draski’s biology class and then proceeded to recess from the West wing to my Health class with Coach Perry.

As I walked into the classroom, I sat down at my desk and it became clear that this was not any normal day. Coach Perry had turned on the TV and was watching the news coverage. I remember a feeling of confusion. Why was the TV on? More importantly, what’s this on the news? What was going on with the smoking building from New York? Was there a fire? There were so many questions, but no clear answers. As I remember, Coach Perry didn’t really address the class; he may have said something brief, not that I think he would have known what to say. We all simply joined together and watched due to a lack of better answers.

Then, we saw the second plane hit the twin towers. My heart sank. This was something awful, but I still wasn’t sure what was going on. We prayed. We all began to understand that little would be the same moving forward. This was a defining moment in our time.

The rest of the day was met with our various teachers leading prayers and making sure that we were all doing okay. I can’t recall, if not the same day, but probably the next day, we resumed learning.

When I reflect on 9/11, I remember the sadness and horror of that day. But almost more distinctly, I also remember the compassion and empathy that filled the halls of Fenwick. The prayers offered up in every class. The opportunity to talk with our teachers about how we felt. But as we felt able, we began to return to our pursuit of knowledge. In such a time of uncertainty and as a Freshman in a new environment, it felt reassuring to resume learning as we all learned to cope with the challenges presented in the post-9/11 world. It felt fortunate to be so supported by the faculty and the Fenwick community as we all learned to deal with the new world that had been wrought by that day.

John Nerger ’74 was working at the Pentagon:

It was a stunningly perfect day in Washington, not a cloud to be seen in the clear, vibrant blue September sky. The weather gave no clue at all to what was about to happen in the early morning hours in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. As I was commuting to my job in the Pentagon, I remember being disappointed I wouldn’t be able to take a customary lunchtime run over the Potomac River to the Washington Monument on such a glorious day since I had an important all-day meeting to attend. The day before, we had scrambled to find a larger conference room since a greater number than expected were planning to attend. Not long after our meeting started, word reached us quickly after the American Airlines jet struck the west side of the Pentagon, and we exited to see billowing black smoke and hear fighter jets streaking overhead. At first, we thought it was a bomb, but eyewitnesses told us otherwise. Since we weren’t allowed back into the building most started their journeys back home amid the heavy traffic and the chaos. Cell circuits were jammed, making phone calls virtually impossible. A couple of us wandered into a nearby hotel lobby and joined airline flight crews staring in horror, disbelief, and silence at the TV screen. Several Army colleagues and I began the standard military operating procedure of accounting for all co-workers.

The plane crash left a gaping wound in the Pentagon building. Heading left from the point of impact, Mr. Nerger’s office was on the first floor just around the next corner and next side of the building – on the exterior, not quite facing the small parking lot seen in the photo. The section of his office that was destroyed was on the very left edge of the blackened impact point (third floor).

Our Pentagon offices were split into two locations separated by a short 1-minute walk, but one smaller section was situated adjacent to the point of impact. We soon discovered one colleague working in that area, an Army major, had been evacuated to the Washington Hospital Burn Center in critical condition and two others, both civilians, were missing. We feared they perished though we kept calling area hospitals hoping they’d turn up. They didn’t; the two had no chance at survival since this part of the Pentagon bore the impact’s full force. The original conference room we reserved for our meeting was nearby and had been destroyed as well. I cringed to think how close many more of us had come to being there and felt guilty about surviving when others were not as fortunate.

I finally left for home late afternoon when there was nothing more for me to do and traffic had lessened. I returned to many hugs at home and saw that my middle-school son had chewed his fingers to their nubs. His teacher apparently thought it a good idea to keep the TV on in the classroom as my son watched the replays while wondering about the whereabouts of his father.

The automobile license plate that John used for years to honor those who lost their lives on that day.

The next day, virtually everyone returned to work, even though firefighters were still battling the flames. The hallways were filled with smoke but there was work to be done. My office was intact but flooded with several inches of water due to the firefighting efforts. Those of us who couldn’t get back to our offices just found somewhere else to work. For weeks afterwards, I remember weeping privately at home before beginning my pre-dawn commute so I could stoically make it through the day. Soon, Pentagon corridors were covered with quilts, pictures, and notes of encouragement from school children, churches, and civic groups across the country. It was hard to look at them with a dry eye. The next several months were filled with opportunities to mourn our lost colleagues, comfort their families, and console each other.

Cleanup at the Pentagon began immediately and not long after, a lengthy reconstruction. Thankfully, the Army major survived multiple surgeries during the first few weeks of his recovery though there were many more to come. When I first visited him, he was in pain and wrapped like a mummy, yet his spirit was strong. “Mr. Nerger, there must be a reason I’m still here,” he said with certainty. But then, so it is with me, and so it is also with you, regardless of your proximity in space or time to the tragic events of that day.

Chris Ritten, VP of Institutional Advancement and Fenwick Past Parent:

Working on a Morgan Stanley fixed income sales floor in Chicago with direct “squawk” boxes to all trading desks in New York, my first inkling that anything was amiss on that otherwise typically busy Tuesday morning was when the Head of our US Treasury trading desk came over the squawk — before anyone knew anything — and said, “Don’t quote any Treasury prices.  Something is going on with the broker feeds. They’re not right.”  

Minutes later the TV sets on the sales floor — always tuned to CNBC at the time — cut to a live view of the World Trade Center. As we stared in disbelief, when the second plane hit the south tower one of the salespeople leapt to his feet and declared, “This is war!”

I immediately thought that my five young children will grow up in a world very different than the one I did — heavily armed security forces at all events and transportation hubs, pat downs and metal detectors a part of everyday life. There was a distinct loss of innocence that moment.

When it became known that other planes had been hijacked and rumors swirled about possible targets, downtown Chicago buildings emptied out, especially the skyscrapers. I immediately drove to my kids’ schools — to see them in the flesh through eyes blurred with tears of relief and anguish. I then went to our church, St. Giles, next door, to pray.

Only later did I learn that the world’s largest U.S. Treasury bond broker, Cantor Fitzgerald, was headquartered at the top of the north tower.

David Dunlap ’85 was working for Cantor Fitzgerald in Texas:

I had moved to New York City at the end of 2000 to help build an energy desk in Houston for Cantor Fitzgerald. On that morning, we had been watching CNBC as usual and, as the rest of the world, saw the first plane hit the North Tower, where my fellow coworkers were working (floor 102). We had our squawk boxes set up between Houston and New York as we had to be in constant contact throughout the trading day. Their initial reactions were, “It looks like a small plane has hit,” to “It’s starting to get smoky in here and we’re being told to move to the conference rooms.”

As we lost communication, we all watched in horror as the second plane hit. We knew this wasn’t an accident anymore. My coworker, whose brother-in-law worked with us in New York, tried to keep upbeat knowing how tough Rob was and how “he will figure out a way to get out of there.” Shortly after, as the first tower fell, we realized they were all gone.

The next two weeks were spent in New York helping with the families and the few people left from our company. Since we essentially had no more HR [human resources] department, I helped with talking to my friend’s parents about insurance and other odds and ends.

On our drive over the bridge to NYC, it was our first look at the new skyline. The smell of Ground Zero was like nothing I’ve ever smelled in my life. Twenty years later, it still makes me angry and also very sad for the friends I lost that day and the years they have all missed. I think about it often and always hope that we all never forget what happened that day.

Math Teacher Roger Finnell ’59:

I walked into my classroom that morning at about 8:45 and turned on the classroom TV so that the whole class could watch live history being made. I could see one tower next to a large cloud of dust.

It took a few seconds for me to realize that the dust had been caused by the first tower collapsing. We watched intently and, in another ten minutes or so, saw the second tower collapse. My first remark to the class I remember as, “I think everybody was expecting a terrorist attack, but no one expected one this bad.”

Everyone walked around in a state of shock the rest of the day, but teachers remembered to remind their classes not to blame one whole group of people for the actions of a few terrorists.

Jeff Oakey ’88

I was an active-duty Navy officer assigned to a ship based in San Diego. I was also less than 24 hours into my honeymoon in Las Vegas. Our ceremony and honeymoon had already been delayed, so our 10-month old son was with us.

We woke up late that morning and I noticed that the airport seemed pretty quiet. I put it out of my mind as we dressed and went down to eat. I stayed with our son while my wife went to the buffet. As our waitress poured coffee, she told me about a plane hitting one of the WTC towers. When my wife returned with her breakfast, she relayed about another plane hitting the Pentagon. We agreed to finish our breakfast and check the TV news when we got back to the room. I remember the disbelief curdling into horror as the first tower fell five minutes after we turned on the TV. Stunned, we immediately started calling our friends who worked in either New York or the Pentagon. Then we checked out and drove back to San Diego — five hours across the desert with unending bad news on the radio and American flags already sprouting up in every town, truck stop and overpass.

My wife dropped me off at the naval base’s main gate (no vehicles could enter) and I walked the mile to my ship, which was preparing to sail. After a week or so off the California coast watching only fighters in U.S. airspace and verifying the flight path of every aircraft taking off from nearby Tijuana, the ship returned to port. As I walked in the door of our apartment, my son stood up with a huge grin and I saw him walk for the first time.

Weeks later we celebrated his first birthday together and then my wife and son went to her Dad’s house because our scheduled February deployment had been moved up to November. By January 2002, we were sending Marines into and over Afghanistan. Our group of ships and Marines hunted Al Qaeda leaders from Afghanistan to Northern Africa before finally heading home in July.

The combination of powerfully good and bad feelings has long left me conflicted about 9/11. My honeymoon, my son’s first steps, the death of thousands of innocents, and the opportunity to help my military family do something to protect our nation from further attacks. Twenty years later, the conflicted feelings remain, more muted now, but occasionally gathering enough strength to toss me out of sleep. I’ll spend a groggy hour remembering how quickly I went from honeymoon to combat patrol off the U.S. coast, then how we took the combat overseas and away from those loved ones we missed so much.

Theology Teacher Pat Mulcahy:

I was teaching in Room 46 (the Bell Tower) on September 11, 2001.  We had TVs in the corner of each classroom at the time, and I remember the TV looping through the second plane crashing into the Tower. Several years before, A Dominican with great vision began a required course for seniors on the study of World Religions. That Dominican’s name was Fr. Bob Kelly. He dragged me into teaching the course with him, which I had absolutely no desire to do at the time. To this day, we are the only Catholic high school that I am aware of which requires a course like this for seniors.   

In November of 2001, I became aware of a talk being presented at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park entitled, “Getting to Know Your Muslim Neighbor.”  I attended with a number of my seniors.  I was never more proud to be an American. The place was absolutely packed with people who didn’t want to jump to conclusions about an entire group of people based on the actions of a few. At this event, members of the Muslim community spoke about their religion and what it meant to them. To me, this was America at its best. 

As I’ve watched several programs recently (Frontline and Netflix) as we approached the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it saddens me deeply to see how unable we are to listen to one another any more on a variety of issues. 

Mickey Collins ’03, Fenwick Director of Scheduling & Student Data

I was sitting outside the library finishing my pre-cal homework for Ms. Caponigri. Went to 1st-period pre-cal class [with] no idea what was unfolding. Headed to 2nd-period class — Fr. Saucier US History in Room 03. Kids started asking if we knew what had happened. By end of that period, I was pulled out of school by my mom only to walk into our house to see replays of the planes crashing and the towers falling. Went back to school for XC practice — we were bused to practice (first and only time ever), and while running our workout, we all noticed the complete lack of planes in the sky. It’s the most eerie feeling I’ve ever had.

U.S. Army Major Timothy Fitzpatrick ’71, MAJ (Ret.)/Dept of Army Civ (Ret.) and Distinguished Member of the PSYOP Regiment; Bronze Star Medal/Master Parachutist/Army Distinguished Civilian Service Medal; College of Naval Warfare (2009)

On 11 September 2001, I was at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the headquarters of United States Special Operations Command. I was working as an Army Civilian for U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s Battle Lab, working on future concepts and experiments, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Representatives from all components of SOCOM were there to talk about future operating concepts and what that would mean in terms of doctrine, organization, training, education, materiel/equipment, leader development, personnel policy, facilities, policy, and authorities. We were on Day 2 of our working group when someone came in and said a plane just hit a building in New York. At first everyone thought some small airplane crashed but then someone said come on in where a large, flat-screen TV was as this was big.  We gathered round just in time to see the second airliner hit. There wasn’t a sound or a movement in the room and I think everyone instantly recognized that we were being attacked.  

We went back to our work area to try to get something done, but it became evident that the whole headquarters was buzzing as general officers and staffs were assembling. Then news of the Pentagon hit came in and the other missing airplane. This extensive and well planned assault clearly meant we were at war.  It was decided to break up for the day and get with our commands for instructions but if possible we would assemble the next day to complete our work.  We went back to the hotel and were glued to the TV news.  As all air traffic became grounded it was clear we weren’t flying back to Fayetteville, NC.  The plan became to drive into MacDill the next morning and see what we could get done and continue the rest of the week. 

On the morning of 12 September, we attempted to drive our rental car into MacDill, but traffic was backed up for miles given the tight security measures taking place. We made it to the McDonalds on Dale Mabry about a mile from the gate.  The folks at McDonalds had made hasty trays with straps around their necks and were going car to car with pre- packed breakfast and coffees as no one could get into their drive through, selling at a discounted flat rate to avoid change.  We were monitoring the news on the radio when we got a call to forget the workshop and get home.

I called home to talk with Karen and let her know we were driving home when she turned the phone over to Caitlin, my 13-year-old daughter. She asked me, “Dad, does this mean we are at war?”  I told her yes, that this was the Pearl Harbor of her time and, yes, we were indeed at war. She was silent for a bit and said that is what she felt the day before.     

We attempted to get a flight out but everything was grounded. We called the Rental Car company and told them we were going to take the rental car to Fayetteville, but they insisted we return it. We again told them we would return to their Fayetteville NC location at our airport and hung up before they could object. We then headed North.  

I called both sons at Appalachian State University. Our twins, Danny and Timmy, were freshmen there. After talking to Tim I called Danny. Danny had joined the North Carolina National Guard in 2000 and had just completed Infantry Advanced Individual Training as an 11B infantryman in a Bradley fighting vehicle mechanized unit, the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.  He had been alerted by his unit to make sure all his stuff was ready but no word on any mobilization. He clearly understood the implications.  

Upon arrival at back at Bragg, security measures also affected getting on and off post but I returned to work. Our primary effort shifted from future concepts to how we would meet any shortfall needed to deploy units and then sustain them. A big effort was in identifying funding and other requirements to ramp up training and producing Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Soldiers to fill units. Also, the mobilization and certification of National Guard Special Forces and Army Reserve Civil Affairs and  PSYOP units to deploy with any Special Operations or Conventional forces (barracks, training areas, training support, ammunition, radios — everything).

My son Danny did not deploy immediately, but they did undergo two combat training center rotations at Fort Polk LA, and at Fort Erwin California (the desert training center personally picked out by GEN Patton in WWII for realistic and punishing Desert training. In the fall of 2003. Danny got a text message while in class, and he got up and stuffed his books in his pack and started to walk out when the prof asked him where he thought he was going. He answered, “Iraq.” Forty other students from his brigade also got up and departed campus at the same time; 400 in a month, which was quite a shock to the App State. Danny deployed to  Iraq in early 2004, spending almost a year fighting insurgents in the desert areas near Balad Ruz, and Tuz Khurmatu. His unit fought some significant actions. Before his unit departed they did several weeks of training on Fort Bragg and I was able to put his company through some weapons simulators I had acquired for Special Ops where retired SF instructors worked with them as well as on how to call in air strikes and artillery, getting more soldiers in his unit proficient on that than normal, and it showed in later training and combat. MAJ Danny has since deployed again to Iraq as a Scout – Sniper platoon leader, and then to Afghanistan as a company XO. His wife, MAJ Shawna Sneller Fitzpatrick, has also deployed twice to Iraq including a year of flying UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in combat.   

This 20th anniversary of those attacks is deeply marred by the events of the last few weeks and the incomprehensible capitulation to an existential enemy. The suicide attack at Kabul airport on 26 August 2021 resulted in the death of SSG Ryan Knauss, one of the last PSYOP Soldiers to complete training as I retired from my civilian job as the Deputy PSYOP proponent at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.  He leaves his young widow Alena.

Please pray for all those who were killed that day and those recovering from their wounds from that same attack and the hundreds of Afghan dead.  In my mind and the minds of most veterans I talk to it appears that we have reset, re-equipped, funded, and facilitated our worst enemies back to where they were on 10 September 2001. We are absolutely gutted over this. This war is not over and continues as the suffering at a massive scale in Afghanistan mounts, is destabilizing the entire region, and emboldening our enemies globally.

Remembering the 1945 ‘Kelly Bowl’ Football Classic

More than 80,000 fans at Chicago’s Soldier Field saw the Fenwick Friars (8-1-2) defeat the favored Tilden Tech Blue Devils by a final score of 20-6.

By Jack Lambert ’46 (written in 1996)

This marked the 12th game of the All City Championship between the Public and Catholic league schools. Fenwick had last played in the city-championship game in a 19-to-19 tie with Austin High in 1936. Tilden lost to Leo in 1941 and 1942 – and then beat Weber 13-7 in 1944.

Tilden was a one-point favorite for the 1945 game with Fenwick. The largest crowd in Kelly Bowl history was the 115,000 which saw Austin (with Bill DeCorrevont) beat Leo in 1937. In 1939, the north end of the stadium [at Soldier Field, Chicago] was shortened to make room for a building to house the Park District offices, so the 90,000 expected to see the Fenwick contest was tremendous for a high school football championship.

Mike Swistowicz (left), of Public League champ Tilden, gains a mere two yards against a stingy Fenwick defense in late 1945. No. 29 for the Friars is Bill Crowley, 32 is Frank Duchon and 48 is Coleman Caron. (Chicago Sun photo.)

In 1945, a state football championship was not yet in existence, so for a Chicago city or Catholic League team, the All City game was the biggest championship available.

Four of the two teams’ starters at the beginning of the season were out of action because of injuries – Tilden’s end Tom Kernan, tackle Emil Ciechanowicz (6’4” 220 lbs., which was gigantic for a high school player in 1945), guard Ed Dembuck and Fenwick’s halfback Bill Barrett.

Fenwick’s first-string center, Coleman Caron, had contracted an infection, which caused him to drop from 165 lbs. to 145 lbs., the weight he played at the rest of the season. Coleman was the youngest starter in the history of Fenwick football when he started at quarterback at the age of 14 years, 8 months in the fall of ’43. He was also first-string QB on the 1944 North Section championship team and switched to center for the 1945 season.

In 1995, former freshman football coach and athletic trainer Dan O’Brien ’34 (left) reunited with Coleman Caron ’46. Mr. Caron, a former QB who started at center for the Friars’ mighty 1945 Chicago City Championship team, passed away in 2013.

Coleman was the twin to Justin, ‘Dud,’ who was a halfback on the team, which had a second set of twins: first-string guards Frank and Bill Duchon. Bill went on to win Little All American and small college honors for two years at Wabash College. Bill would go on to coach at Glenbard West from 1961 through 1976, bringing his team to the 1976 state championship finals. Bill was Athletic Director from 1977 to 1988, and the stadium was named after him.

Fenwick’s Dick Martin, captain and right halfback, would go on to win Look magazine’s first-string All American honors as defensive safety in his senior year at the University of Kentucky, and he placed on Bear Bryant’s all-time team as defensive safety. Dick was voted the Catholic League’s Most Valuable Back in 1945.

Fenwick’s Roger Brown, Bill Barrett and Bud Romano would go on to Notre Dame. Joe Bidwell, first-string tackle, would attend Notre Dame for two years before entering the Dominican Seminary.

Ed Reidy, the other first-string tackle, would go to the University of Dayton, and Bill Crowley, the fullback, would play at St. Norbert College.

Late alumnus Fr. Joseph Bidwill, O.P. ’46 (1995 photo) started at left tackle on the offensive line for Fenwick’s 1945 All-City Championship football team.

Father Joe Bidwell celebrated the Mass at the 50th Reunion for the senior members of the ’45 team at Florence and Bud Romano’s home on December 16th [1995]. Bud, a right halfback on the team, has been hosting a dinner for the senior members of the team and their wives for a number of reunions over the years. [Mr. Romano passed away in 2017 at age 88.]

A number of years later, Bill Barrett, Dick Martin and Bill Duchon would be inducted into the Chicago Catholic League’s Hall of Fame along with their coaches, Tony Lawless and Dan O’Brien.

At their 50-year football reunion, late alumnus Don Romano, Sr. ’46 held a sign recalling Coach Tony Lawless’s motto: “It’s not the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog that counts!” Teammates Roger Brown and C.J. Berrigan, Jr. are to Buddy’s right.
Jack Lambert’s 1946 Blackfriars yearbook portrait.

About the Author
Alumnus John “Jack” Lambert, a proud member of Fenwick’s Class of 1946, was among the 80,000 fans in attendance at the big game on Saturday, December 1, 1945. Lambert had played football for the Friars his sophomore and junior years. He also boxed those years, played intra-mural basketball and was on the Debate Team. He would go on to become a securities broker at Peregrine Financials & Security, Inc., passing away in 2013.

Fourteen Friars from the ’45 team gathered 50 years later (bottom row, from left): Dr. Bob Huspen, guard; Fr. Joe Bidwell, O.P., tackle; Frank Duchon, guard; Cole Caron, center; Bill Duchon, guard; and Ed Reidy, tackle. Middle row: Ralph Davis, guard; Dud Caron, left halfback; Bud Romano, right halfback; Dan O’Brien, trainer; Bill Darley, swim team captain; and Dick Martin, captain/right halfback. Back row: Roger Brown, left halfback; Bill Crowley, fullback; Clay Berrigan, tackle; and Dick Jordan, end.

Kairos Came at the Right Time for Members of Fenwick’s 2021 Class

While students continued to endure the pandemic’s negative effects, the senior retreat personified the Dominican Pillar of Community.

By Nick Polston ’21

The iconic Fenwick atrium is my favorite part of the entire school. In the morning, walking through this part of the building signifies an exciting day ahead. In the afternoon, the speckled, marble floor glints in the sunlight that shines through the glass entrance, and I contribute to the after-school commotion as I joke with my friends. For over three years, however, I often failed to acknowledge an integral piece of this room’s welcoming beauty.

Four large banners hang above the atrium’s second set of doors, each one embroidered with a pillar of the Dominican faith: Community, Service, Study and Prayer. I learned about these values extensively in my theology classes and read about them in Fenwick newsletters; however, with all the time I spent in that Fenwick atrium during my first three years of high school, I surprisingly never took the time to stop, look up and reflect. Of course, there were plenty of mornings when I walked into school with my head down, going over some mental notes for a first-period test or simply tired from homework and football practice the night before. Only Mr. Ritten’s cheerful emphatic “GOOD MORNING!” was enough to lift my gaze. Yet all the while, those banners hung there, watching over me. It was not until my Kairos experience senior year that I truly recognized the importance of those four pillars.

Fenwick student-athlete Nick Polston ’21 (Riverside, IL) “starred” in the classroom as a Friars’ President Award recipient. He plans to study finance and business at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO.

It is difficult to write about my Kairos experience without giving away the activities and traditions that make the retreat so impactful, but I will do my best. Arriving at Fenwick for the three-day retreat was scary at first, even as I sat in the comfort of the atrium. I was surrounded by classmates whom I did not know well, much less with whom I could see myself sharing in the intimacy that I believed Kairos engendered. However, once we boarded the bus that would take us to the Bellarmine Retreat House, we began to talk with each other about the colleges we were attending, the sports we played and some of our favorite Fenwick memories.

After arriving an hour later, we were placed in our ‘small groups.’ Admittedly, I was nervous once again after my group assignment; it was comprised of classmates with whom I had not had a conversation since freshman year history class, and I nearly regretted my decision to attend Kairos without my close friends. Over the course of the next three days, however, my small group truly became my family. It is still shocking to me how 72 hours with a group of people I had only seen occasionally in the halls of Fenwick could turn into a support system that I know I can count on forever. Being with my small group gave me the courage to express myself and listen to others, because I knew that I was in a trusted, safe environment.

The Pillar of Community

As cliché as it may seem, Kairos gave me the perspective to truly appreciate not only the similarities between myself and others, but also the differences that make us all so unique. It was at Kairos that I began to understand the importance of Community in the Dominican faith. Judgement, shame and negativity were left at the door of Bellarmine House and replaced with courage, love and support. Kairos created a bond between my classmates and me that has yet to fade and may just remain with me forever.

Polston played baseball and football all four years at Fenwick. As a senior during the historic spring football season of 2021, he was a team co-captain and earned All-Conference honors as a defensive back and quarterback. (Photo courtesy of Oak Park Wednesday Journal.)

I once read that praying with others is an amazing way to grow spiritually, as you carry the burdens and intentions of others with you as you pray. Kairos was especially unique in this manner. After sharing stories with classmates and internalizing the struggles and triumphs of peers, praying together at the end of the day was yet another way my Kairos group became closer as a community. I realized that prayer should not only serve as petition and intercession but as praise and thanksgiving for the blessings God gave me in my life.

One of my Kairos leaders told me, “You get out of Kairos what you put into Kairos,” and I certainly found this to be true over the three days we spent at Bellarmine Retreat House. Everyone is affected differently by their experience at Kairos; however, if you put effort into participating in the activities, expressing your feelings and listening to others, this retreat will be one of the best times of your life.

My advice to future students who will attend Kairos is to treat the experience with respect. Respect the courage of fellow students, teachers and leaders. Respect the amount of trust they have in you, and you, too, will find the courage to express yourself. Kairos is a refreshing, life-changing three days that changed my perspective on life. When I return to Fenwick, I will never fail to look up and see the four banners that hang above the atrium entrance. Living my life by incorporating the four Dominican pillars is to inherently “live the fourth.” Those who have been on Kairos know what I mean, but to the future students who are waiting to go on their Kairos retreat, I guess you will have to wait and find out.

Fenwick Adopts “One Book, One Fenwick” Model for Student Summer Reading

Inaugural program to debut with A Raisin in the Sun.

This year, as part of its Summer Reading Program, Fenwick High School debuts “One Book, One Fenwick.” For the first time since formal, summer reading began at Fenwick, the Catholic high school is announcing one shared book to read among all students – as well as those within the greater Fenwick community who wish to participate. The selection, A Raisin in the Sun, actually is a play written by the late Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965).

“We tip our hats to Chicago Public Library’s ‘One Book, One Chicago’ for the inspiration,” said John Schoeph, English Department Chair and a 1995 alumnus of Fenwick. The “One Book, One Fenwick” program seeks to unite all students and members of the Fenwick community through a shared book, Schoeph and his English Dept. colleagues explained. “We envision the program offering platforms and avenues for book-related information, discussions and learning.”

While activities are taking place across disciplines in Fenwick classrooms, Fenwick’s English Dept. hopes to see parents, alumni and friends of the school get involved through a variety of offerings related to the book. “It is our hope that a common text can foster intellectual interaction and friendly discourse between and among the many groups that make up Fenwick’s vast family and network,” the committee proclaimed. A few of the experiences in the works include multiple book chats open to the wider Fenwick family, in-class discussions across the subjects, performances of passages by Theater Fundamentals students, and an all-school assembly celebrating “One Book” in late September.

Committee member and fellow English Teacher Kyle Perry, a 2001 Fenwick graduate, noted: “We look forward to the opportunity of improving students’ literacy while also building a stronger sense of community here at Fenwick.”

Inaugural title choice

Poet Langston Hughes penned what has now become a celebrated question in his 1951 poem, “Harlem:” “What happens to a dream deferred?” Among the possible answers is that it might dry up “like a raisin in the sun.” Hansberry’s 1959 play follows the Youngers, an African-American family, as they seek the American Dream in Chicago. When the Youngers inherit a $10,000 insurance check (equivalent to more than $90,000 today), they pursue wishes for entrepreneurship, education and, especially, a house of their own in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood. Through A Raisin in the Sun’s engagement with topics and themes from across the American literary canon, including assimilation, class, race, gender, hope, pride and family relationships, the play addresses Hughes’ question: “What happens to a dream deferred?”

Mr. Schoeph

“We have enjoyed an incredibly successful summer reading program for years,” Schoeph continued. “Our students read and tend to enjoy the selections. We didn’t want to grow complacent with our success but sought to find a way to bolster the program, to inject it with something exciting and unifying. After exchanging several ideas, we decided on the ‘One Book, One Fenwick’ model. Witnessing the entire English Department enthusiastic about this new dimension to our summer reading program warmed my heart as chair.”

Students can find full details on their summer reading assignments, including course-specific texts assigned in addition to A Raisin in the Sunhere on the Fenwick website.

Acts of Kindness: Fighting COVID in Ohio

More than a year into the Coronavirus pandemic, a Fenwick alumnus, whose class is celebrating its 50th reunion this fall, reflects on the pandemic from the perspective of a front-line health care professional.

By Dr. James Tita ‘71

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime. Most physicians go through their entire career and never experience an event of this magnitude. As a physician who specializes in pulmonary and critical-care medicine, I found myself confronting an illness that had never afflicted humans.

The SARS-Cov-2 virus, identified only in bats previously, was reported in late 2019 from Wuhan, China, as the cause of an outbreak of a severe viral pneumonia. The illness appeared to be very contagious and frequently deadly. There had been limited outbreaks of two other similar coronavirus illnesses within the last 15 to 20 years, but SARS-Cov-2 virus appeared to be much more contagious. Our fascination with the medical reports coming out China soon turned to dread as the virus spread to Europe and beyond.

I recall our public health authorities estimating that, based on a handful of positive tests in Ohio, the virus had infected 6,000 people across the state by mid-March 2020. By the end of that month, our hospitals went into crisis mode as they were overwhelmed by the number of patients with COVID pneumonia. Elective surgeries were canceled, and most of the hospital was filled with critically ill COVID patients on ventilators. Many were elderly and frail. Supplies such as N-95 masks, gloves and gowns were in short supply and had to be re-used.

Since there were no effective treatments, we offered largely supportive care. Because of the need for strict isolation, families were not allowed to visit, even at end of life. The isolation this caused only added to the anguish and despair. We tried to facilitate video visits, but most times the patients were too sedated to communicate.

Watch the heart-wrenching video from a Toledo, local TV news station.

Dr. Tita is Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, OH.

Caring for patients became difficult because of the constant need for personal protective equipment. The fear that any of us could become infected, and potentially spread the disease to our families, was always present. And yet, despite the long hours and difficult and stressful conditions, our nurses, respiratory therapists and staff demonstrated a level of professionalism, teamwork and compassion that was inspirational. Acts of kindness were easy to find.

Ebb and flow

By summer, the number of new cases had fallen dramatically, and our COVID caseloads dropped. The hospitals started to open for elective surgeries. People grew tired of masking and social distancing and began to let their guard down. It was not uncommon to see large gatherings of people at a party or other event. Unfortunately, the virus was not gone and, by late fall and winter, our case numbers began to skyrocket. Hospital beds again filled with COVID patients.

This second surge was different, however. The average age was about 10 years younger than in the spring. We don’t know why exactly but believe it was related to the fact that the nursing homes, through strictly limiting visitation, were able to keep their residents safe. I think we got better at managing the illness as well. We used more alternatives to invasive ventilation, such as high-flow oxygen. We also had a drug (dexamethasone), which was modestly effective at treating those who had severe pneumonia. (Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid used in a wide range of conditions for its anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects.)

But despite these small improvements, the United States recorded its highest daily COVID death numbers in January this year at more than 4,000 deaths. We are closing in on nearly 600,000 deaths in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vaccine relief

Fenwick faculty and staff had opportunities to receive the COVID vaccine this past winter.

From my perspective, a turning point came in late November when the FDA gave Emergency Use Authorization to the Pfizer vaccine and, shortly thereafter, to the Moderna vaccine. Last summer we could only dream about an effective vaccine for this illness. While some worry that these vaccines were “rushed into production,” the technology for mRNA vaccines was developed nearly 10 years ago. The Chinese, early in the pandemic, were able to map out the entire viral genome. From there, we were able to find the sequence that coded for the spike protein on the surface of the virus; insert this sequence using nanotechnology into a lipid coat, and the vaccine was complete. These mRNA vaccines have been extraordinarily safe and effective. I was among the first to receive the vaccine in December and strongly recommend the same to all members of the community. The more people we get vaccinated, the less the virus can replicate and the less chance for variants to occur. (Fenwick faculty and staff received first shots in late February.)

For those who recover from COVID, approximately 10% to 30% develop post-acute syndrome. These “long-haulers,” as they are referred to, can suffer lingering symptoms for weeks to months after the infection. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, racing heart, cough and headache. Many other symptoms have been described including prolonged loss of taste and smell, sleep disturbances and GI [gastrointestinal] problems. Most people with this syndrome were not hospitalized and reported relatively mild COVID symptoms.

We cannot know how and when the pandemic will end. It has been said “the virus will do what the virus will do.” However, given the outbreaks occurring in India and South America, it is likely that COVID will become endemic. [An endemic is a disease that belongs to a particular people or country.] Vaccine hesitancy has stalled vaccination rates in our communities and does not bode well for the U.S. to reach herd immunity. Local outbreaks, such as the one occurring in Michigan currently, are likely to continue until more of the population becomes vaccinated.

Pandemics change history, and it is likely our lives and world will be changed as well. Only in retrospect will we understand the significance of this pandemic.

About the Author

James Tita’s Blackfriars yearbook photo from 1971. The Berwyn boy was a member of the National Honor Society and German Club as well as a debater and Illinois State Scholar semi-finalist.

A native of Berwyn, IL, Fenwick alumnus James Tita is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and Fellow of the American College of Chest Physicians. A specialist in pulmonary and critical-care medicine, Dr. Tita is the Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio.

Fenwick among Chicago-area Schools Addressing Racial Inequity

Teenage students share their vision for a better educational environment.

Student representatives from Fenwick, Brother Rice, Nazareth Academy and 22 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago are coming together to address racial inequities. In partnership with DePaul University, students and school advisers from archdiocesan and independently run high schools gathered online last winter in a series of virtual meetings “to identify challenges in their respective schools and potential solutions to achieve racial justice and equity,” reports Joyce Duriga, editor of the Chicago Catholic newspaper. “Students presented their work to Cardinal Cupich on April 16 during an online meeting.”

“The group, comprising eight students and two staff advisers from each participating high school, began meeting online in February to discuss problems and solutions in their schools with the goal of promoting equality,” continued Ms. Duriga. “During the monthly meetings, each school was asked to create a vision for racial justice represented in ‘jam [vision] boards’ with each school developing individual commitments to racial justice and equity ….” The program developed by DePaul is RISE: Catholic Students RISE for Racial Equity. RISE stands for the process of reflection, inquiry, self-awareness and empathy, according to an April 27th Archdiocese news release.

Fenwick participants are members of the DEI Friars, a group of current students, moderated by faculty members, who lead the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the student level. DEI Friars focus on messaging in the school, promotion of DEI, and being a safe place to hear concerns from students and faculty about issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion in the building, according to the school’s DEI Director Raymond Moland ’96. Senior Vivian Nguyen ’21 (Westchester, IL) is one Fenwick student who decided to get involved. She and three of her classmates — Vaughn-Regan Bledsoe (Maywood, IL), Belema Hart (Oak Brook, IL) and Claire Woods (Brookfield, IL) — also are members of the DEI Friars, a student group focused on diversity, equity and inclusion within the school.

Led by the initiative of Ms. Nguyen, who has one younger brother at Fenwick and another brother entering in the fall, this is the student body’s statement:

Fenwick High School will commit to racial equity by first acknowledging that injustice exists, and then creating a diversely educated and inclusive environment for our students so that we can look at our world through multiple unbiased lenses. By implementing initiatives identified by the Director of DEI, we will further support and focus on the diversity of our students and staff.”

For the Archdiocesan project with the Cardinal, “our students were charged with using the Jamboard as a tool to explain and provide a rationale about the improvements they want to see within Fenwick,” explains Mr. Moland. Jamboard is a digital, interactive whiteboard developed by Google LLC. Here is their breakdown (see above image):

One word that you see throughout our Jamboard is DIVERSITY. We believe that increasing diversity in the student body and within the administration and faculty will help eliminate many issues of injustice we have seen in our school.

We believe that in order for change to happen, we must recognize what the truth is. We have to admit the truth: the truth that we are bound by racism and inequality. We cannot embrace diversity until we understand the truth behind our differences.

The use of HEART and MIND.

Education is one of the most important parts in creating a change. Biases are taught, whether by parents, teachers, peers or the media. Early exposure to diversity and education of racial justice can alter the way a generation sees the world. A change in curriculum at Fenwick through the addition of books by authors of color, a POC [person of color] perspective, and integration of diversity in different subjects will offer the students a new point of view.

Injustice in our school and society extends beyond race. Racism, homophobia, ableism, classism are examples of injustice we see every day. If we do not actively stand against injustice, we are indirectly standing for it. Being passive and doing nothing is just as bad as contributing to the problem. “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” – Alexander Hamilton

We want to see students/teachers of color be able to express themselves freely. A culture day/week might provide us a time and place to allow POC to embrace their cultural differences through clothing, food, music, dance and more.

➢ We want incoming freshmen to feel at home as soon as possible. An outreach program that helps them connect with/shadow POC upperclassmen can be beneficial to their experience at Fenwick High School. Students will be more comfortable knowing that there are people that look like them and care about them in this new environment.

Fenwick Repeats as ACES State Champion!

Friars rank number one in Illinois’ Academic Challenge in Engineering and Science (ACES) STEM competition among schools with less than 1,500 students.

For the second consecutive year, Fenwick High School has finished first in Illinois in the Academic Challenge in Engineering and Science (ACES) competition, formerly known as the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE) program. “We are the top STEM school in a division that includes all high schools in the state with 1,500 students or fewer,” reported David Kleinhans, ACES moderator and chair of the Fenwick Physics/ Computer Science Department. “Twenty-four schools competed at the State competition in our division.

Mr. Kleinhans

“We also finished second when looking at schools in our multi-state region,” Mr. Kleinhans continued, “to Clayton High School in Missouri by eight points out of 500 total points. Congratulations to their team and all the other competitors.” This year marks the tenth consecutive year that the Friars have reached the state finals. Since 2012, Fenwick is the only Illinois school to win a first, second or third place State trophy each year — and the only Catholic school to finish in the top three spots.

Approximately one year ago, Kleinhans shared that Fenwick won the IL State ACES science contest for the 2019-21 academic year. “In addition, Fenwick bested all the Missouri schools in attendance to finish first in the Midwest region,” he noted. “I was so proud of our students and their perseverance through the switch to eLearning and eTesting amid the onset of COVID-19.” Like last year, the Fenwick 2021 team was undeterred by the online coaching and test-taking, demonstrating tremendous focus, perseverance and “wild intelligence,” according to their proud coach, to capture another state title. The top five students in each subject area received medals. Fenwick’s individual winners are:

One of 10 senior leaders, Anna Dray ’21 is heading to the University of Notre Dame next school year.

Math – 1st Finley Huggins (perfect score!)
Math – 2nd Logan Maue
Physics – 3rd Anna Dray
Physics – 3rd Daniel Majcher
Physics – 3rd Dmytro Olyva
Chemistry – 4th Finley Huggins
English – 4th Katy Nairn

Logan Maue ’21 will continue his studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana Champaign).

The 14-member team (by class year and in alphabetical order):

SENIORS

  • Anna Abuzatoaie ’21 (Melrose Park, IL, Grace Lutheran School) – either Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Bucharest, Romania, or University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Cluj-Napoca, Romania (TBD) 
  • Anthony Battaglia ’21 (Melrose Park, IL, Grace Lutheran School) – University of Notre Dame
  • Katie Cahill ’21 (River Forest, IL, Roosevelt Middle School) – University of Michigan
  • Anna Dray ’21 (Elmhurst, IL, Immaculate Conception Grade School) – University of Notre Dame
  • Therese Giannini ’21 (Wood Dale, IL, Immaculate Conception Grade School, Elmhurst) – Loyola University Chicago
  • Jacob Korus ’21 (River Grove, IL, St. Cyprian Catholic School) – undecided
  • Daniel Majcher ’21 (Chicago, Keystone Montessori School, River Forest) – Northwestern University
  • Logan Maue ’21 (Oak Park, IL, St. Giles Catholic School) – University of Illinois
  • Mary Rose Nelligan ’21 (Oak Park, IL, Ascension Catholic School) – University of Notre Dame
  • Dmytro Olyva ’21 (Cicero, IL, St. Giles Catholic School, Oak Park) ­ – University of Illinois
Finley Huggins ’22 is one of four juniors on the team.

JUNIORS

  • Vince Beltran ’22 (Berwyn, IL, Heritage Middle School)
  • Zach Dahhan ’22 (Elmwood Park, IL, Elm Middle School)
  • Finley Huggins ’22 (Oak Park, IL, Ascension Catholic School)
  • Katy Nairn ’22 (Lombard, IL, Glenn Westlake Middle School)

How to Set the World Afire

Love is like a Northwood’s campfire, spreading warmth amid our world of darkness and sin.

By Fenwick Student Preaching Team Member Mia Scharpf ’22 (Berwyn, IL)

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine, doctor of the Church, patron saint of Italy and Rome, and a Dominican. She dedicated her life to God from a very young age and fought to defend what she called “the vessel of the Church” with her letters and treatise “The Dialogue of Divine Providence.” She was born in 1347 and canonized in 1461.

St. Catherine of Siena

She asks us to “set the world on fire” in several of her quotes and we often hear fire used as a religious symbol in sacraments and the Bible. Tongues of fire came down to the Apostles on Pentecost, God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, John said Jesus will baptize us with fire.

Fire has many purposes and properties. We use it for cooking and for s’mores, and it is the centerpiece of a night at the lake as we laugh with family and friends. Fire helps us stay warm when we are cold and it can help us see when the night is dark. Fire is powerful enough to change what it touches completely; it spreads rapidly and is difficult to extinguish.

Each summer for as long as I can remember, my family has visited my neighbor’s lake house in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Days are filled with boating, driving into town, eating too many cinnamon donuts, falling off of tubes and water skis, and they’re ended with all 20 of us sitting around the fire singing with my dad as he plays his guitar. When the sun sets, it gets very cold and dark and the mosquitoes come out in swarms. Without the fire, it would be difficult to find the path to the bunkhouse, it would be freezing cold, and the bugs would eat everyone alive. 

This fire is very similar to the fire described in St. Catherine’s quote. Instead of keeping mosquitoes away and shedding light on a path strewn with pine needles, the fire in St. Catherine’s quote provides warmth and light to a world of darkness and sin. It illuminates the path of Christ and reveals the way of love and joy. It allows us to feel the warmth of His unconditional and transformational love. 

“Be who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

– St. Catherine of Siena

But how do we live as who God made us to be? How do we ignite that spark? The first thing that will probably come to mind is service and volunteer work, but there’s so much more to who God created us to be. We each have been given gifts and talents, and instead of burying them in the ground, God calls us to use them to glorify His name. Whether you are a swimmer, a runner, a singer, or an actor, you can give glory to God by working hard at practice or improving in rehearsal. It’s like receiving a sweatshirt from your grandma for Christmas, and when she sees you wearing it proudly, she feels appreciated and loved. When we use our blessings for good, we give thanks to God and live as he made us to be.

St. Catherine used her gifts to make a difference and protect the Church. She fanned her spark into a flame and set the world on fire with her words and works. St. Catherine asks us all to follow her example of spreading God’s love by sharing our blessings. We are called to set our world on fire with this love, to spread its warmth and light, so powerful that it can transform whoever accepts it. I’m certain St. Catherine chose this symbol because love can spread like, well, fire.

ANOTHER STUDENT PREACHER BLOG INSPIRED BY SAINT CATHERINE